why (and in what sense) is there always reason to object when there is reason to resent?

Here’s a puzzle. Or at least something that we might want to have a good explanation of. Intuitively, one having reason to have some particular type of attitude (including some particular type of moral, reactive attitude) is tightly, necessarily or essentially connected to one having reason to do things that one tends to do when one has the attitude (or that tend to “go along with” having the attitude). For example, when I have reason to resent you for how you have treated me, I have reason to object to you (or the community at large) for your treating me this way (and also: complain, protest, resist, demand apology, demand compensation, etc.). Plausibly, if it is appropriate for me to resent, then necessarily it is appropriate (in some related way) for me to object (even if, all things considered, I have more reason to refrain from objecting than to object); and, conversely, if it is appropriate for me to object (in the requisite way), then necessarily it is appropriate for me to resent. Yet: we have two distinct responses here, PHI-ing and PSI-ing and, if this is all the information we have, we should suppose that having reason to PHI and having reason to PSI are not connected in any necessary or essential (or even systematic but conceptually or metaphysically contingent) way. Why does having reason to resent have anything at all to do with having reason to object?

The first, preliminary question to ask is what general type of normative support we are concerned with. We might ask this sort of question regarding both broadly fact-relative and broadly representation-relative normative support or status. So start with rationality and rational normative support (the representation-relative sort of normative support) on a standard, generic picture of what this is and how it goes. The picture here looks something like this: (a) I rationally (rationally enough) representing your action as resentment-worthy; (b) because of this it is (to some extent, usually definitively) rational for me to resent you; (c) if I then do rationally resent you on this basis, then, because of this, it is (to some extent, generally a pretty significant extent, in respect of the locally salient inferential thrust) rational for me to object (complain, protest, resist, demand apology, demand compensation, etc.). It can be all-in rational for me to resent you, but all-in irrational to object (e.g., if the pragmatic cost of objecting is too high – maybe you have credibly threatened me with severe consequences should I voice my resentment by objecting to your abuse). More interestingly – if more esoterically – the rationality of my resentment (or of my representing your action as resentment-worthy) can fail to provide any rational support at all for my objecting. This will be the case if, due to some kind of “executive malfunction” I simply fail to represent objection as connected to resentment in the relevant way.* However, if these failures are rare (and they are), we should say this: given certain background conditions that almost always obtain (these “executive failures” not occurring), whenever it is rational to resent, it is rational (in this same respect) to object. I think this is a substantial vindication of (though also perhaps a slight correction to) our intuitions here.

What about fact-relative normative support (“objective normative reasons”) for my resentment (of you for your behavior) and for my objection (to what you have done)?

We need to do a bit of somewhat-contentious groundwork before we can answer this question. My representing your action as resentment-worthy could: (a.1) have positive rational status (independently of whether correct or incorrect, true or false), (a.2) be correct or true (independently of whether or not it has positive rational status), (a.3) both be correct (true) and have positive rational status (i.e., be an instance of knowledge).** Similarly, my resenting what you have done could: (b.1) have positive rational status based on the positive rational status of my representing what you have done as resentment-worthy, (b.2) be correct relative to what you have done being resentment-worthy, (b.3) be both rational in this way and correct in this way. And, again similarly, my objecting to your insulting me unprovoked could: (c.1) have positive rational status based on my resentment having positive rational status (and as well my representing your action as resentment-worthy having positive rational status), (c.2) be correct relative to what you have done being resentment-worthy, (c.3) be both rational in this way and correct in this way.***

At least sometimes, when we say that X resenting Y (for Y performing A) is appropriate, we are referring to correctness-status. For example, if I miss out on a crucial bit of what you said, thus mistaking your unprovoked insult for something innocuous, it is still appropriate for me to resent you for what you have done (said). In the objective, normative sense, I have reason to resent you (even though, in my psychology, there is no reason for me to resent you). This might seem somewhat curious in that the most direct and primary correct response to your action being resentment-worthy is my believing this is the case. Why no reference to this? I think this is because we can, in principle, abstract from any arbitrarily large or small “chunk” of correct or correctness-preserving chain of rational responses (or good reasoning) and focus only on the response being correct (relative to correct or accurate representation of some salient fact that is at the beginning of the chain of inference). One can “get the resenting right” here just as one can “get it right” (perhaps by guessing!) about whether this theorem is true relative to these axioms being true in standard high-school geometry. In a similar way, we might (and do) evaluate my objecting to your unprovoked insult as correct or incorrect, by abstracting from a chain of correctness-preserving reasoning and focusing only on whether the response of interest is correct or incorrect relative to your behavior being resentment-worthy (the accurate representation of which is the beginning of the correctness-preserving chain of inference). Relative to your behavior, my objection is correct (even if it happens not to be the most objectively meritorious thing to do, all things considered – maybe you will beat the shit out of me if I object to your abusing me). I would object, and my objection would be correct, if I were to engage in correctness-preserving reasoning from the true belief that you have misbehaved toward me.

If my resenting your behavior is correct, then is it necessary that my objecting to your behavior is correct (in the same respect, relative only to your behavior being resentment-worthy)? Yes. For we are assuming that all the prior rational steps have been taken (that the basing relation holds for each step) in asking what the response would be if the correctness-preserving reasoning were performed starting with the true belief that your behavior was resentment-worthy. This comes to a full vindication of our intuitions here regarding the “objective normative reasons.” Appropriate (=correct) resentment entails (locally, in the relevant respect) appropriate (=correct) objection and vice versa.

We might also consider treating appropriate resentment (and appropriate objection) like knowledge, as something that is at once correct and rational (rationally well-supported or at least capable of rendering rational support to other attitudes). (See the second possibility canvassed in the third footnote.) Perhaps we use ‘appropriate resentment’ and ‘appropriate objection’ in this sense in many cases when the agent actually has the correct response on the right rational basis. E.g., when we say things like ‘she appropriately resents his mistreating her, objects to it, and resists his abuse’ we don’t mean only that she correctly resents, objects, etc. (perhaps by accident or irrationally). Nor do we seem to mean that she rationally, but perhaps mistakenly, resents, objects, etc.

What sort of connection is there, in this sense of ‘appropriate’ (call it ‘objectively rationally appropriate’ perhaps), between appropriate resentment (or having reason to resent) and appropriate objection (or having reason, of the same kind, to object)? Well, as we have seen above, the correctness-statuses here are necessarily correlated. But it seems that the rationality-statuses might fail to correlate (as indicated above) due to either: (1) my failing to experience resentment or (2) the basing relation between the resentment and the objection not holding (perhaps due to my not representing there being a connection, perhaps due to my being in such a state that I simply fail to bring such information to bear despite having it). So, if there is a necessary connection here, it is conditional on at least these two sorts of background conditions for the ability to rationally infer being present. If any of our intuitions of necessary connection between appropriate resentment and appropriate objection are keyed to this kind of beefed-up correctness-involving rational status, I think this would count as a substantial vindication (and partial correction) of them. We would have to conditionalize the necessary connection in the same way that we do for positive purely rational status or for rational status in a more generic or not-partially-correctness-constituted sense.****

Though not in an entirely neat way given the necessary distinctions and complications here, I take this to solve the puzzle. In particular, if one is concerned with the “objective” normative support that correlates with correctness (or fact-relative merit more generally), the intuition that, when it is appropriate (=correct) to resent, necessarily it is also appropriate (=correct), in the same respect, to object. This intuition is fully vindicated. It is fully explained why, despite the responses being distinct (and despite the presumption that the normative pressure need not favor or disfavor the one when it favors or disfavors the other), the relevant (objective) type of normative support for the one entails the same (objective) type of normative support for the other. Whenever there is objective normative reason to resent, there is objective normative reason to object (complain, resist, make relevant demands, etc.). And conversely, if the response-object or respect of normative support for objection (complaint, etc.) is specified as the same as that which makes for it being appropriate (there being objective normative reason) to resent.


*  I take the relevant representation here to be that of the correctness of resentment being connected to the correctness (in this same respect) of objecting. Some folks will take the relevant representation to represent rational connections or support. Still others will deny that representation of either type is necessary for rational support to exist (and be “transferred” to further states via good inference). However, nothing I say here depends on my view here being correct. All that is necessary is that there is a kind of “executive malfunction” that could happen in us or our central nervous system, such that, though the relevant inferential form is preserved, this is not due to the relevant attitudes being connected-up through “the basing relation.”

**  I use ‘positive rational status’ to refer to inference-warranting (or rational-status “transferring”) power – whatever it is that makes for this (maybe further rational support, maybe knowledge, maybe just relevantly non-accidental correctness, maybe any of some disjunction of some or all of these). However, mere correctness (perhaps merely accidental) does not do the trick. And there is meant to be a contrast between this and rationality in a more “subjective” sense, according to which merely having an attitude might license, in some very weak or contingent or easily-defeasible sense, its use in inferring this or that distinct attitude.

*** One might wonder whether rational status and correctness can be separated in this way. For example, one might think that, necessarily, rational or justificatory termini are, one and all, instances of knowledge (and hence both rational and correct or true). Similarly, though perhaps less plausibly, one might think that (narrowly) rational resentment confers rational status only if it is also correct (the correctness being necessary for the right kind of properly-robust rational status). I’m inclined to think that this is wrong, and that, even in the case of rational or justificatory termini, positive rational status is constituted in a purely subjective way, through something like the following psychological elements being present: (I) higher-order representations (often implicit) that first-order attitudes are correct, (II) similar representations that the correctness of this type of attitude with this content makes other attitudes (of relevant type, content) correct or more-likely-correct, and (III) absence of any of a wide variety of rational beliefs that are rational-support-defeaters in one’s overall psychology. Importantly, this is (i) consistent with the idea that, in the actual world, it is almost always true that rational or justificatory termini are bits of knowledge (it is just that the correctness would not do any direct work in making the attitude have the kind of positive rational status that goes into making further attitudes have positive rational status). It is also (ii) possible that the conjunction of rationality (in my sense) and correctness does important actual-world explanatory work in any number of cases — perhaps these elements together constituting a sort of “natural kind.” (I explore such a possibility with regard to appropriate resentment, below.) So some not-insignificant things can be granted to my opponent here. If the reader does not share my view, she can treat the [x.1] and the rationality part of the [x.3] normative-status characterizations as technical concepts (and quasi-properties) of a kind of beefed-up “merely subjective” variety of rational support that is distinct from the familiar, more-robust rational or justificatory status that does all the familiar work (this interpreted as requiring requiring there to be attitudes that are both correct and rational somewhere in the mix). I’m skeptical of this move, but it does allow for my conceptual distinction and hence for something of a common framework for discussion.

**** I’ve been tacitly assuming (though my language might not always make this entirely clear) that correctness being normative is a function of the normativity of rationality. On this view, correctness is not inherently normative. This is consistent with thinking that representations of correctness (and rational moves “preserving” correctness), but not the normativity of such, are essential to explaining rational normativity (or perhaps various grades or types of such). If, on the other hand, one takes correctness to be inherently normative, then one is more apt to regard all the counterfactual business concerning whether one would have an attitude (if, assuming one knows the relevant fact or facts, one were rational in the appropriate respects) as incidental to the normativity of correctness. And more apt to regard the normativity of correctness as a sui generis normative status, the concept (not the property) of which goes into making for positive rational status (or any given bit of rational, normative support). In WWO, Scanlon accepts most elements of this alternative framing (though he does not squarely address the question of whether correctness is inherently normative). I think this is what drives him to view normative “reasons” (in the objective normative or fact-relative sense) as conceptually basic (and as explaining rational status via the concept of such, not the property), as in principle puzzling to describe or explain, and as at least possibly something metaphysically basic. If, on the other hand, correctness is not thought of as inherently normative, there is not the same rational pressure to adopt these unfortunate anti-explanatory (and otherwise puzzling) positions.

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